Tragedies happen in our world every day, and many of these tragedies can affect us deeply. The startling realities we witness through pervasive news reports on television and the internet can cause “secondary trauma.” Secondary trauma is the negative and sometimes debilitating emotional response we experience when affected by the losses of others. Exposure to this trauma can cause emotional, physical and spiritual exhaustion and impairment.
No one can ever be fully prepared for every crisis or exposure to crisis. We can, however, make choices that lead to growth and healing. There are decisions and actions we can take to minimize the impact and maximize the recovery from secondary trauma. Here are five suggestions that can help in times of crisis.
Understand normal reactions
When tragedies occur, horrific media headlines and images often play in our minds again and again. It is common to experience a wide range of emotions that are too complex to organize. It is not simple to wrap our minds around reasons for sudden death or perpetrated violence. Feelings of shock, disbelief, fear and sadness can affect all areas of our lives and drown our spirits. These are normal reactions to abnormal situations.
Realize effects of other losses
There are two factors that affect how you cope with crisis: your past and your present. Any past crisis or trauma experiences can affect how you approach crisis today. If you’ve been affected by painful past events, such as a family death, divorce or a national tragedy, you may find yourself consumed with flashbacks and memories of these times. Your present condition will also affect how well you deal with stress. Life’s stressors, such as caring for an aging parent or enduring financial problems may seem magnified when experiencing another trauma.
Consider past healing
Most likely, you have survived one or even many losses or traumas. Consider what helped you most and seek similar solutions. What activities, actions or involvements helped you heal? Also, consider what did not help, and try to not repeat those coping attempts. This could include indulging in unhealthy behaviors or not addressing your feelings at all.
Be intentional in self-care
Take care of yourself! Be patient, but also be deliberate in daily choices that bring health and healing. Spend time with friends and family. Go for a walk. Take a bubble bath or read a good book. These, and other activities of self-care, can go a long way to balance the trauma of events outside our control. They bring emotional and physical relief and are necessary in preventing further strife and turmoil.
Recognize need for help
If your stress is so strong that it gets in the way of your daily life, talk with someone. Don’t try to deal with trauma on your own. You can start with a trusted friend, relative or minister. If there are ongoing, debilitating consequences resulting from any crisis in your life, as ask for help. You can regain your life again! You may want to talk with a mental health professional to discuss how well you are coping with recent events. Seek help early, before the devastation of secondary trauma causes emotional or physical burnout.